VA Releases Opiod Rx Rate - Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas
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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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VA Releases Opiod Rx Rate

January 26, 2018

In mid-January U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Dr. David J. Shulkin announced that VA has begun publicly posting information on opioids dispensed from VA pharmacies, along with VA’s strategies to prescribe these pain medications more appropriately and safely. With this announcement, VA becomes the only health-care system in the country to post information on its opioid-prescribing rates.

“Many Veterans enrolled in the VA health-care system suffer from high rates of chronic pain and the prescribing of opioids may be necessary medically,” Secretary Shulkin said. “And while VA offers other pain-management options to reduce the need for opioids, it is important that we are transparent on how we prescribe opioids, so Veterans and the public can see what we are doing in our facilities and the progress we have made over time."

The VA is the first hospital system in the country to post information on its opioid prescribing rates, and the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston is part of this innovation designed to raise awareness, increase transparency and mitigate the dangers of over-prescribing.

“The Houston VA Medical Center has a multidisciplinary comprehensive pain management program dedicated to helping Veterans eliminate and/or manage their pain ,” said Dr. J. Kalavar, MEDVAMC Chief of Staff.  “The fact that the MEDVAMC has one of the lowest prescribing rates in the country is a direct result of our commitment to not only promote safe prescribing practices, but also combat the broader opioid epidemic in the United States.”

The Houston VA offers Veterans a number of alternatives to assist them in their pain management, to include physical therapy, occupational therapy, acupuncture and chiropractic.  Alternative therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy and  yoga are also available. 

Nationally, VA has developed patient management initiatives including Pain Coach, which is a pain management app available for download by patients receiving pain management treatments; a Veterans’ Health Library, including a Quick Reference Guide on Opioid Safety; and resources for Pain Management on My HealtheVet.  These applications allow Veterans to better manage their pain with a decreased or even eliminated use of opioids. VA‘s measurement-based pain care includes the “Pain Scale,” which reduces uncertainty and helps Veterans by discussing the potential benefits of a medication and possible side effects.

The interactive map shows opioid-dispensing rates for each facility and how much those rates have changed over time. It does not include Veterans’ personal information. Users need to click on the interactive map to zoom in. Clicking on dots plotted on the interactive map will allow the rates to be displaced for each of the VA facilities respective to their geographical location.

It is important to note that because the needs and conditions of Veterans may be different at each facility, the rates of the use of opioids may also be different for that reason, and cannot be compared directly. The prescribing rate information will be updated semi-annually, on January 15 and July 15 of each year.

The Houston VA Medical Center’s prescribing rate went from 12 percent to 6 percent, which translates to an overall decrease of 50 percent over a five-year period (2012-2017). Opioid prescribing rates are calculated by dividing the number of Veterans who received any opioid prescription by the total number of Veterans who received a prescription from that pharmacy within the specified time period.

Information about the VA Opioid Safety Initiative may be found here. A link to the interactive map on VA’s opioid use across the nation may be found here.  For more information, contact Maureen Dyman at 713-578-5569.